It is called "the Forgotten War." With the coming bicentennial anniversary of the War of 1812, the federal government's commitment to reviving interest in the event is seen as a positive move – for both Canadians and Americans.
In October of 2011, Canada’s federal government announced its four-year plan – and $28 million budget – to commemorate the War of 1812. The bicentennial anniversary of this conflict, which was fought between the United States and the British together with a number of First Nations tribes, will come to pass in June of this year.
The War of 1812 is considered a defining event in Canada’s history. According to the official government website for the commemoration, The War helped establish [Canada’s] path towards becoming an independent and free country, united under the Crown with a respect for linguistic and ethnic diversity. It was a war that was instrumental in establishing Canada’s armed forces, it laid the foundation for Confederation and it established the cornerstones of many of the nation’s political institutions.
Yet, for as important an event as it was, it seems to be fading rapidly from the collective memory of Canadian and US citizens. As reported in The Washington Street Journal, a 2009 poll conducted for the Ontario Ministry of Tourism showed that 74% of Americans travelers, as well as 66% of Canadians, who were aware of the conflict were unable to recall a single specific event in the war.
To Americans in particular, the significance of this commemoration may not be fully understood because of the way the war is perceived in the US. According to the Canada Free Press, many Americans were never taught about the battles of 1812 in school. They have only a vague idea that the war was somewhat of an embarrassment to the American side.
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Alan Taylor speculates (as reported by The Washington Street Journal) that the bicentennial commemoration is not stirring much interest among US citizens because it is competing for attention with the 150th anniversary of key events of the Civil War – a conflict which resonates strongly with many Americans.
Though it has been called “the Forgotten War,” many assert that the War of 1812 is a conflict worth remembering – for both Canadians and Americans.
Michel Duquet, Executive Director of the Canadian Historical Association, is pleased by the Canadian government’s efforts. He states, “The commemorative events surrounding the War of 1812 have done much to revive historical interest in this conflict on both sides of the border … the vast majority of Canadian and American citizens contacted [for a February, 2012 Ipsos Reid poll] felt that the bicentennial was an important event to commemorate.”
Duquet adds, “[The] various initiatives undertaken by the Canadian government and various states and cities in the United States to commemorate the War of 1812 will go a long way to ensure that Canadians and Americans do remember this defining moment in our history.”
Similarly, Mark Reid, editor of Canada’s History Magazine, says, “The War of 1812 was the most crucial war of the century and that is why it is imperative that both Canadians and Americans remember it. It is important that we commemorate an event in which two countries at war have gone on to be not only neighbours but also allies and friends.”
Both are poignant statements. It was a defining moment in Canadian and American history. The war was declared in June of 1812 – in June of 2012 the event will be commemorated by the Canadian government. That’s an almost two hundred year peace; two hundred years in which two great nations have come together – and stayed together. That is arguably one of the most valuable lessons to be learned from the conflict, and is likewise one of the most important reasons why the War of 1812 should be remembered on both sides of the border.